United States GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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AUSTIN – Qualifying for the United States Grand Prix in Austin today produced something of a surprise result. This may seem odd given that pole position was claimed by the driver with more than anyone else this season, but following Lewis Hamilton’s domination of practice in Austin, few would have expected Nico Rosberg to be the man on top in qualifying.

Alas, Rosberg was quicker when it mattered, producing a scintillating final lap in Q3 to bag his ninth pole position of the season at Hamilton’s expense. The Briton struggled with a brake problem, locking up even when he was backing off, which meant that he finished some three-tenths of a second adrift at the flag.

This is not the first time that Rosberg has performed a heist of this nature. In Canada, another of Hamilton’s favorite circuits, the German driver took pole after trailing in all of the practice sessions. He seems to have a knack for producing the goods when they matter.

That said, qualifying is not the be all and end all. No points are awarded on a Saturday, and with Hamilton hungry to take a huge stride towards a second world title, Rosberg will have his work cut out at COTA tomorrow.

Here’s the complete round-up from Austin on Saturday.

SESSION REPORTS

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Boycott? What boycott?

Yes, what boycott indeed? Well, it appears that there was a possibility that three of the F1 teams – Sauber, Lotus and Force India – would boycott this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in protest of the current financial structure of the sport and the subsequent cost crisis. As carried by only a few outlets, all of the teams did moot the possibility, only to then blame each other and say that they would be racing after all. As per the interviews Bernie Ecclestone has conducted today, the show will go on in Austin.

However, the very fact that actual concrete talks are now being held about the financial structure of the sport suggests that some ground has been made up. As we have chronicled over the past few days, the cost crisis dogging F1 at the moment is very serious indeed. Although the boycott appears to have been avoided for now, the very real danger of F1 shooting itself in the foot persists.

Rosberg picks his moment

Pole position appeared to have Lewis Hamilton’s name written all over it following the third and final practice session in Austin on Saturday morning. Surely, after topping all three practices, he couldn’t lose out in qualifying?

Well, he did. Lewis may have had problems, but Rosberg produced a fine final flyer to secure pole number nine of the season. This means he is guaranteed at least a share of the FIA Pole Trophy – although it will mean nothing if he doesn’t win the world championship.

However, Rosberg has won just once this year when both drivers have started on the front row of the grid, and that was at Monaco where overtaking is notoriously difficult. He may have the advantage for now, but Lewis will have his knife between his teeth in the race tomorrow. The championship fight will continue to rumble on, all for our amusement.

Williams best of the rest yet again

Or should that be “Bottas best of the rest yet again”? This is the sixth time in the last eight races that Valtteri Bottas has qualified inside the top three as he continues to establish himself as one of the breakout stars of the 2014 Formula 1 season. He was three-tenths clear of teammate Felipe Massa at the end of Q3, but both Williams drivers should be set to scrap over the final podium position in Austin as Red Bull and Ferrari struggle to keep up.

In Red Bull’s case, having Sebastian Vettel start from the pit lane means that he will be hoping for any kind of points (that said, the reduced field should help him). Seb played it smart in qualifying, doing enough to get within the 107% time of Hamilton whilst completing just three laps, thus saving the life on his engine. We all remember his escapades in Abu Dhabi 2012, and although a repeat is hard to see happening, he should still be fighting well within the points on Sunday.

Sutil and Maldonado come good

After struggling all year long, both Adrian Sutil and Pastor Maldonado finally got their acts together during qualifying at Austin. They will line up ninth and 10th on the grid respectively, marking a season best for both drivers.

Quite whether this form will translate into the race on Sunday remains to be seen, but after a difficult season, few would begrudge them some points. For Sutil, it would be the best possible time to score them, given that he has just one seat left to fight for at Sauber following Marcus Ericsson’s announcement.

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That’s all from the paddock today, but be sure to join us tomorrow for all of the news and analysis on the ground at COTA.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).